New York Islanders Slim Playoff Hopes Remain Alive
By Brian Bohl
UNIONDALE, NY- Perhaps all it did was delay the inevitable. The Isles staved off elimination and in the process prevented a heated rival from clinching a playoff berth on their home ice during last Tuesday's 3-2 shootout victory over the Rangers.
Depending on luck is probably not the best strategy for a team that last won a postseason series during Bill Clinton's first term as president. They trail Montreal by four points with three games remaining. In order to sneak in to the Eastern Conference's eighth and final spot, the Islanders need to win the home finale against Toronto this past Thursday and sweep back-to-back road contests against the last-place Flyers and first-place Devils over the weekend.
Even if they go 3-0, they can still miss out if Montreal picks up more than one point during their final two games.
"We're not eliminated yet," defenseman Brendan Witt said. "We have to take it literally one game at a time. I hate to say that stupid cliché, but it's true. We have to focus now on Toronto coming in."
The Islanders last winning streak over three games came Feb. 19-27, when Rick DiPietro guided them to four straight wins. Coach Ted Nolan can no longer relay on his netminder to initiate another streak, as DiPietro is likely out for the rest of the season because of post-concussion symptoms.
Backup Mike Dunham struggled in his first two starts after DiPietro went down, but former third-stringer Wade Dubielewicz has seized his opportunity since being recalled from minor league Bridgeport. If he accomplishes nothing else this season, the AHL all-star can always look back at what he did to the Blueshirts in front a partisan Nassau Coliseum crowd as the highlight of his brief stint in the NHL this season.
Dubielewicz, at just 5-10, played bigger than his size, stopping 36 shots through regulation and overtime. Not included in those statistics were his three saves on Michael Nylander, Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr in the shootout.
"Out on the ice, we don't have nine lives, we have one," Dubielewicz said. "We're alive right now, and that's the important thing. But we can't feel too good for ourselves. We have a big game coming in."
Both Shanahan and Jagr are Hall of Fame locks, but the 28-year-old goalie showed more experience than a man making just his seventh career start in the league. His backpedaling pad save prevented Jagr from pushing the one-on-one session into sudden death, keeping the Isles fledging playoff hopes alive. "It was great to see him making all the stops," said Miroslav Satan, who scored the game-winner in the shootout in support his goaltender. "In the shootout, it's not often that he [Dubielewicz] faces those kind of players. He made great stops there. It definitely was his game today."
The Islanders won the first four meetings this season against the Rangers but lost the next three, including two in overtime. In the third overtime, and second shootout, this season, Nolan saw his group pick up the much-needed extra point, giving them a 5-1-2 edge in the season series.
As a bonus, the Rangers could not celebrate clinching a playoff berth on the Coliseum ice, which a victory would have provided.
"We talked about that- if they are going to clinch, let them clinch somewhere else," Nolan said. "We have to keep our hopes alive and get two points. Playing the Rangers always brings out the spirit in us. "